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North Borneo Stamps: A Cover That Missed the Last Clipper Service

| Friday, May 9, 2014

Pan-American Trans-Pacific Clipper Service (1935-1941)

I showed this cover to one of my non-philatelic friends one day and jokingly asked him if he would buy it for €50.

Although quite impressed with the heavy colourful frankings, like an innate reflex, he spontaneously asked me back"Fifty euros??! why would I buy this piece of crappy paper? I wouldn't even buy it for a tenner!!!".

I smiled. Of course he wouldn't buy it and I wouldn't sell it at the price either, but trust me it's always fun to tease your friend on the subject from time to time.

Anyway this is a censored cover sent from Lahad Datu to Berkeley California, USA. It is heavily franked with multiple North Borneo stamps (1939 issue) to a total rate of $2.05 - North Borneo Censored Lahad Datu 1A

Evidently a mistake, this being the rate to the UK via the Pacific, plus 2¢ War Tax stamp. The rate to USA with PAA service after 3rd July 1941 would have been $1.55. Tied with Lahad Datu 4 DEC 1941 (D11) with black boxed censor cachet number 28 on the front and back. Inscribed "Per Pan American Clipper" on top left corner, with an airmail etiquette below. US censor label number 1683 on top of (presumably) North Borneo censor label.

Missing the Last Clipper from Singapore

The Pacific clipper service bacame available in Singapore on 10th May 1941. The first clipper (California clipper) reached Singapore on 10th May 1941 and returned back to San Francisco on 12th May 1941 - The first newly extended Pan Am route to Singapore.

With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941, and the US officially declaring war to Japan, the trans-Pacific services were immediately suspended. The last clipper (China clipper) left Singapore on the 30th November 1941, so the only remaining possibility for airmail to the UK and USA would have been the Horseshoe route with its long arduous transit times. Other possibility would have been by ship journeys from Singapore or Australia (Sydney) to the USA.

How Did the Mail Reach USA?

The essential question is how did mails missing the last clipper delivered to their US/UK destinations. Examples from various countries show two possibilites: by surface ship via the Pacific to the US; or via the long Horseshoe route to the UK.

The numbers of  covers flown on the newly introduced PAA trans-Pacific route from North Borneo are unknown but should be very little. Many covers boarded the clipper in time for the last clipper on the 30th Nov 1941 so there are very few example from British Borneo or Malaya to compare with.

For the cover above, the US censor 1683 is that of San Francisco, which strongly suggests that it was delivered via ship to the US. This was either from Singapore or other major port cities (eg. Sydney). Nonetheless, because of lacking examples, it would be interesting if details on such ship delivery can be brought to light.

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